Friday, May 17, 2013

Mindfulness for the Moment

I often wonder what goes through folks’ minds when they see the title of my inspirational reflection.  When I use the word, mindfulness, I wonder what sort of connotations that has for the people who read this.  If they have some awareness of Buddhism, they might figure I am doing a Buddhist thing today.  Certainly mindfulness plays a very important role in Buddhist spirituality.  But mindfulness is not a Buddhist concept.  It is a more general concept which plays a huge role in Buddhist practice.          

I suspect there is a role for mindfulness in every major religious tradition.  Clearly, the word, mindfulness, may not be used in all the traditions, but the idea is there. In fact, it is difficult for me to imagine anyone who is religious or spiritual who is not mindful in some way.           

Let’s take a general look at what people mean when they use the word, mindfulness.  I like the definition I found in a recent article.  The writer talks about mindfulness as “intentionally paying attention to the present nonjudgmentally.”  This is a good definition for me.  It does not seem essentially to be Buddhist, although Buddhists no doubt would be comfortable with that.  It is also easy for me to imagine Jesus would be very comfortable with that idea of intentionally paying attention to the present nonjudgmentally.  I would hope Christians would be comfortable with it, too.  And probably Jews and Muslims would be ok with it.           

The real issue, however, is not whether someone agrees with the definition.  That is easy.  The real issue is how to practice that.  That is the real question for the Buddhist, the Christian, the Jew and the Muslim.  Words are easy.  Practice is not always so easy.  The real issue is not whether I believe the sentence.  It is how do I put into practice the sentiments of the sentence.  To do that will make me a better person---more spiritual---and it will help me to make the world better.  This is applied spirituality, if you like.            

The author had another idea that I liked.  She said mindfulness is a good way to “take yourself out of autopilot.”  Perhaps this means a great deal to me because I recognize that I spend too much time on autopilot.  Autopilot is not inherently bad.  It is not sinful.  It is just a state of mind that is not engaged.  It is a life that simply exists, but does not experience vibrancy, depth and meaning.  Autopilot is getting by when you can get so much more out of life.           

Mindfulness is a great way to take yourself out of autopilot.  Mindfulness is a means by which we can experience ourselves.  Mindfulness is a great way to be aware of the world around me.  It is to be aware of your suffering and the suffering of others.  Mindfulness helps me see the grace I am daily offered.  And mindfulness enables me to be a graceful conduit of love and mercy to a world sorely in need of careful attention instead of careless inattention.           

A final basic sense of mindfulness comes with the author’s description of the practice of mindfulness.  She says mindfulness “is about being present.”  Again that sounds so simple---and perhaps ultimately it is---but it is not easy for most of us to manage this state.  Being present.  Who would not want to be present?  The illusion is most of us probably assume we are present.  In fact, most of us are probably absent---and absent from ourselves and the world we inhabit.             

There is an alternative.  The alternative is life and, as Jesus said, life abundantly.  The article quotes Dr. Baime, Director of a program at University of Pennsylvania Health System.  Dr. Baime tells us that mindfulness can “create a world where you experience depth, meaning and connectedness. You see joy and sadness more fully and settle more deeply into an authentic way of being.”  That is a great description of what being present means.  It is not an idea; it is an experience.  It leads to a way of living.           

I long for the kind of world that brings depth, meaning and connectedness.  That sounds like a spiritual world to me.  Picture the opposite kind of world: shallowness, meaninglessness and loneliness.  That is a description of hell on earth.  It is not spiritual and certainly not desirable.           

Mindfulness is not magical.  It is not a secret.  It is a practice.  It is a way to begin to be centered.  It seeks the center.  For Christians the center is that place deep within where my soul meets the Holy One.  For the Buddhist mindful practice brings awareness.  It enables me to be present.  It creates a world of depth, meaning and connectedness.           

Notice the language: it creates.  Mindfulness is something you can do.  It is a way of taking responsibility for your life and for your own meaning.  Mindfulness creates and it is creative.  It is a choice we have.  Mindfulness is a choice for the moment---for the present. 

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